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The Slumdog Games In Apartheid India

In this special piece for the OBV blog Gagan Dulai writes on India’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games. OBV invites you to join the discussion about this issue in the comments below the article.

In December 2006, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the following ‘Dalits face a unique discrimination in (India) society that is fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general.

The only parallel to the practice of untouchability is apartheid’. By doing so he had became the first Indian prime minister to compare the treatment of lower-caste Indians with that of black South Africans under apartheid, although behind closed doors the two systems have been compared for decades. Considering that in 1986 32-nations boycotted the Commonwealth Games in apartheid South Africa. It was surprising that India was awarded the Commonwealth Games without any protests from any Commonwealth country.

India’s slogan for the Commonwealth Games is ‘Humanity, Equality, and Destiny’. Personally I think that apartheid, delusion, corruption and exploitation would have been a far more appropriate slogan. Especially considering that India has the world’s largest child labour market and these are not the children of the higher caste the Brahmins, Khatris, Vanjaris or Jatt. In fact according to Save the Children, more children die in India than anywhere else in the world and these will be lower caste children. While the upper caste children in India are being groomed to become world leaders in the sciences, business and medicine, the lower castes are living in an apartheid hell where malnutrition, infant mortality, illiteracy (India has the world’s largest illiterate population) and child exploitation are a way of life.

It comes as no surprise to me children as young as five are working 12 hour shifts to get the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi ready for the Commonwealth Games. Their parents are being paid below the standard minimum wage and have been promised bread and milk if they bring their children and put them to work. The families are exposed to dangerous hazards; there is no sanitation, electricity or clean running water. ‘They live, sleep and eat where they work’ says a labourer on the site. Even under an apartheid South Africa, the white South Africans did not turn to child labour in order to build their stadium so why is India? Yet, according to a report by The Voice of America, ‘the plight of the workers and their children does not concern middle and upper class people in Delhi. It’s not their issue. The apathy starts at the top with the city’s officials turning their backs on the most vulnerable’ says Anjali Alexander.

Half of the city’s homeless shelters have been demolished so that the city could be ‘cleaned up’. Room has been cleared for infrastructure, leaving 100,000 without shelter in the middle of winter. The games have bought in additional 10,000 children from rural areas into New Delhi and there are already 150,000 homeless children living on Delhi’s streets.

When Beijing hosted the Olympic Games last year they did not use child labour yet the world’s press went into frenzy about the treatment of minority groups living in the people’s republic, but there has been a silence surrounding the Delhi Games not only from the broadcasters but also from influential British Indians. Meera Syal and Keith Vaz were up in arms over Shilpa Shetty’s treatment in the Big Brother house yet have remained silent on the issue of the Delhi games and the subject of caste in general. Mihir Bose the former head of sports at the BBC could easily expose the exploitation that is going on in Delhi, he has the power to make it front page news, but chooses not to. Waterman’s theatre in Hounslow is even linking up with artists and young people in Delhi “creating and sharing contemporary stories of their two cities” but the issue of child labour and caste will not be featured.

‘Incredible India!’ is the slogan used by the Indian tourist board, but India is only incredible if you are born into the right caste otherwise it is incredibly prejudice. So why was India awarded the Commonwealth Games?

By Gagan Dulai

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